There comes to each revolutionary a “eureka” moment. The light is off; the light goes on. When enough of us turn our lights on, the revolution will happen.
Wisconsin labor and its supporters have been demonstrating (pun intended) a key ingredient for revolution. They are in the streets day after day and they’ve sustained their numbers and their energy.
But, why are they in the streets? Who are the marquee speakers who have come to address them? What is the nature and purpose of their uprising? If Governor Walker backed down, would they just disband and go home? I’m afraid the answer is that they would.
When we look at a building, we see its structure above the ground. But no building can stand for long without a solid foundation. The Wisconsin “revolution” is reactive. The Governor did this; the demonstrators did that. From an organizing and activism perspective, that’s great. For revolution, a sustainable revolution, there’s no “there” there… yet.
If demonstrators take to the streets to fight for collective bargaining rights, their cause is just but far too narrow. If they organize politically into a “Dump the Governor” campaign, their cause offers minimal single-election progress. The vision and purpose of each and every demonstrator must be informed and energized by something greater. I haven’t seen or heard that emanating from Wisconsin… yet. They are not going to hear the necessary message from speakers like Jesse Jackson or Russ Feingold. These men both have integrity; they are darlings of the liberals and the progressives; they are not revolutionaries. Liberals may win a battle or two; they will never win the war.
Former labor leader, James P. Cannon, said of strikes that took place in 1934: “It has been the lack of precisely this element, which only a Marxist party can supply, that condemned the insurgent labor movement of the past to futility and defeat. Lacking a class theory of its own, which can come into the labor movement in no other way than through the Marxist party, the American workers, with all their militancy and capacity for sacrifice, fell victim to all kinds of quackery and treason and landed in a blind alley every time.”
There is no reason to believe that either a Marxist party nor Marxism itself is the only path to revolution. But, unlike what we’ve seen from the major labor unions, there is no escaping the need to build a movement on a solid foundation of class warfare. This doesn’t mean unions should abandon the issue-by-issue battles they’ve been fighting but, rather, that they need to shape the “gestalt of their resistance” under the umbrella of class warfare. They also need to rethink their robotic support for the Democratic Party. To do otherwise leaves them, and all workers, powerless in the halls of government. Because government is controlled by the corporations and the wealthy elite, the unions will ultimately fail if they seek remedies through this corrupt political process.
To succeed, unions must set a new course… a revolutionary course. They must seek to go beyond the employee grievance model and the collective bargaining negotiating process. They must wage a campaign beyond the corrupt two-party political process. Until unions build a revolutionary movement and negotiate from strength rather than from weakness, they, and all workers, will grow weaker and weaker. That’s exactly what’s been happening for the last fifty years or more.
To win the class war, workers must have more power in their places of employment than investors have. Clearly, that is not the case today. Workers must “control the means of production.” In my view, investors should not be able to vote at shareholder meetings. Only the workers, perhaps including past workers, should have a vote. With worker-owned cooperatives, we might just see fewer plant closings and fewer jobs being exported overseas. We might just see corporate political contributions being made to pro-worker candidates instead of corporatist candidates. We might just see economic and political justice in America. Unions need to place this vision at the core of their mission. They also need to fight on behalf of all workers and not just their own memberships.
In a recent communique, the SEIU announced that they are going to change the tactics they’ve been using. They stated:
“Unless SEIU and the labor movement jettison the service model of unionism, there will be no unions left.
• We are in a class war.
• The Democrats and the Republicans stab us in the back. We need our own labor candidates to run.
• We don’t get anything that we don’t organize and fight for in the political arena. Politics is secondary to organizing.
• Our job is to find new ways to create a movement and to use non-traditional methods of struggle. (i.e. to go beyond the grievance process and help members organize themselves and put themselves in motion.)
• We represent the working class, not just our members.”
This is exactly what unions need to do.
Starting this Monday, you can do something to bring the Wisconsin battle closer to home. You can broaden your resume by moving from online activism to street activism. Solidarity demonstrations to support workers in Wisconsin are being scheduled all over the country. Here’s a link to help you find a rally near where you live. Get out there and make it happen.